When The House Is Still

I just put my youngest child on the bus. She is almost four and attending a four-day-a-week, half-day preschool for the year. I know her teacher and trust her fully, she has a friend in her classroom, she rides the bus with her two older brothers, and her bus driver has been driving my children to school since before my youngest daughter could even walk.

For all four of my children, this year, I know all of four of teachers and feel confident that each of them will be loved, nurtured, and academically challenged in their classrooms. This is the first year my mind is not clouded with worry nor occupied with fear. This is the first year I feel complete peace, joy and thankfulness about sending four of my most precious possessions on the school bus and into the hallways of the world.

With my mind not occupied with worries, what ifs, and if onlys, I find, I am sitting in a quiet house. Windows open and nothing but the sound of the wind rattling the leaves on the oak tree outside my office window.

For a moment I let the memories of the last eight and a half years come to mind amidst the rattling leaves. The noise of newborn cries, toddler tantrums, the sound of the pantry door constantly opening and closing. The messes of spit up, baby food crusted in the highchair, arms and legs covered in Crayola marker, legos and matchbox cars all over the stairs. The fierce battles on the bottom step as I discipline each of them and fight to get to their hearts. The moments I hold them, rock them, pray with them. The moments I open a book to read to them and find four kids, all piled up right in my lap, craving snuggles, connection, and the need to find themselves caught up in a story. The moments when their four personalities captivate me and I find myself caught up in their little life stories.

I have dreamed of this day over the last eight and a half years like many mothers behind me and before me. This moment. The moment when my house would not feel turned inside out and upside down. The moment when the house would be still. The moment when I felt my children would be secure and confident enough to embrace the world without me by their side. The moment when I could entrust their little hearts and lives into the hands of others who are reliable and able to nurture them and teach them alongside me.

And oh how quickly this day has come. Everyone tells you the house will be still soon enough but amidst the chaos you never believe the day of a still house will truly come. But somehow, the day is here. Today, right now, my house is still for a few hours.

And I have a choice. Transitions always seem to lead me to a place of nostalgia and wishing back what I once had before. When the house is still I can hold on to a ghost of the past or I can choose to look back at these last eight and a half years, with contentment, knowing God was writing a story for us amidst the messes, the noise, and chaos to get to this place. I can embrace a new season, with thankfulness because I am confident that God grows us and gives good things to be nostalgic about in every new season. When the house is quiet I can reminisce of the years gone by or dream big about the things which are to come.

When the house is still there are so many possibilities and so many opportunities to wish and wait on a Good God who has been faithfully writing a story in each season for all of us. I am thankful and changed by the memories I have from an inside out and upside down house, but as I still here in a still and quiet house, I look forward, with eager expectation to see what God will do in a new chapter of our family story. God is always working and He is always able.

Screams of Agony

Once, a younger Facebook friend of mine who lived in a home without young children wrote a news feed post that read something like,

“Dear neighbors, are your children screaming because they are dying?”

Often as my own four children howl agonizing screams each evening I recall this post and I think about what the neighbors passing by each evening may think I am doing to cause my children to yell these similar screams of agony.

I’ve decided to share a few of these reasons with you:

  1. The chicken and cheese rolled up inside a tortilla last night were instead served over white rice and baked with additional cheese, corn, and Fritos this evening. Agony.

2. My child has to take a bath. And also has to decide between a bath or a shower. Agony.

3. Someone passed someone on the stairs. Double agony. And biting and scratching.

4. The water is too hot. Agony.

5. My child has to actually have their hair washed in the bath. The soap-sudding and rubbing messes up their hair style. Agony.

6. The water and soap from the shower are touching a completely healed boo-boo on my child’s knee. Agony.

7. When my child’s hair is rinsed with water, the hair must be smoothed down straight. Completely straight. If one strand of hair is crooked… agony.

8. The water in the shower is now getting cold because it took my child too long to get their body under the nozzle. Agony.

9. When it is time to dry off. My children are so cold. So cold. So they are screaming and crying. In agony.

10. If you accidentally towel dry my child’s hair, this messes up their perfect, completely straightened hair style. Agony.

11. If daddy dresses a child instead of mommy or vice versa. Agony.

12. The completely healed boo-boo will hurt if pajamas touch it. Agony. Must slide pajamas on carefully without touching completely healed boo-boo or I will ensue more agony.

13. I brushed my daughters hair. Agony.

14. I picked out the wrong pajamas. Agony.

15. I am trying to breathe and remain calm. My husband and I are laughing amidst this agony. We suggest that these children of ours may be tired and need to go to bed. Agony. They are not tired. What were we thinking?

16. We negotiate with books. We hug them. Cope with them. Tell them they will feel better in the morning once they calm their hearts and go to sleep. It is the two youngers who are in agony. My husband reads to them while I make their warm milk. (I still warm milk for a five and three year old-I am in agony.)

17. The milk is too hot. My three year old likes it warmed at 40 seconds and then she prefers I add one ice cube. The omission of the ice cube ensues agony as well as adding an additional ice cube. Agony. The milk temperature is not right.

18. I forgot the kiss pattern is four kisses and four hugs. Not four kisses and three hugs. (I think he just didn’t feel the last one.) Agony.

All in the space of ninety minutes. Eighteen reasons why you may hear screams of agony coming from my home. No, my children are not dying. My husband and I are simply trying to feed them, bathe them and tuck them into bed. With love.

What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

A Drive Down State Route 741

The windows to my minivan are cracked open and summer anthems play from the car stereo. Today my four kids and I drove from Kings Island to Miamisburg and back again. A hair over forty-five miles round trip.

On the drive I have passengers with me, three boys aged eight, six and five. All of whom would quickly clear their throats and add a half of a year to those ages I mentioned previously if they themselves were the tellers of this story; and a girl three and a  half. Her curls bouncing in the summer air and as untamed as her God-given personality.

As I drove down State Route 741 I drove passed my high school, junior high, elementary school, hometown ice cream spot, dentist office, my father’s work place and the mall where I had my first job.

As I drove down 741 I remembered so many summers of my mother driving a minivan up and down the same road, windows down, some kind of music loud. Me in the backseat at eight. My sister six and my brother aged four.

I have so many sweet memories of watching my mother joyfully drive as we sat behind her in the passenger seats of the minivan. She was singing, silly, vulnerable and wildly free. Driving up and down that State Route road to take us to ice cream shops, dance practices, movies, Kings Island. Her smile from the front seat was vivid in my memories as I cruised my hometown streets with my own children on this summer afternoon.

In my own nature, seriousness, order and work first, play later are the traits which make me tick. It is quite difficult for me to find spaces where I can completely let go and be free from my internal to do list. My straight hair which would never hold a curl is as indicative to my personality as the three year old who has the bouncy curls, the one whose curls are as untamed as her God-given personality.

As I drove today down State Route 741, it felt like I was driving though so many memories. So many spaces in the nooks of my memories where beneath the pain of losing my mother there are so many happy smiles. So many joyful times of being in the backseat of the minivan and experiencing my mother singing, silly, vulnerable and wildly free.

For so many summers I have wanted to push her smile away because it was too painful for me to remember. Pain is the process by which I can access these memories and as I walk through the pain, I find joy on the other side and a challenge to live life in the same way my mother did. To break through the mold of who I think I am supposed to be. To let go of seriousness, order and work first, play later. To let the windows down, sing a little louder and feel the summer breeze tousle my straightened hair for a time.

To step out of who I think I should be and remember the parts of my mother which brought me joy. This is the medicine I need. This is why a drive down State Route 741, windows down and summer anthems loud is good for the soul.

Marriage: From Googly Goggles to Grace Goggles

Eleven years ago I was packing up my first classroom and my first big girl apartment in Lexington, Kentucky walking into a week which had the words my wedding marking the end of the of the week on the desktop calendar in my fifth grade classroom as well as the calendar stuck to the refrigerator in my apartment kitchen.

I didn’t know it then but I was so googly-eyed for Michael Craddock when I think about that week. Googly-goggles blurring my vision and masking all of my soon to be husband’s flaws. It was my infatuation with Michael Craddock and my googly-goggles that carried us from dating to engagement and finally to the altar, from first date to I do for forever in a little over nine months. Blinded to Michael Craddock’s humanity by my googly-goggles.

What I know now is googly-goggles, infatuation and human effort are certainly fleeting. Humanity, flaws, imperfections and missteps are as much apart of Michael Craddock as they are to every human. Humanity and imperfections are so apart of my own self.

There will always be tension between two imperfect humans living seasons and lifetimes alongside one another but when the goggly-goggles no longer mask human imperfection, in Christ-centered marriage, God provides spiritual goggles of grace, the goggles of true righteousness and holiness made after the likeness of Christ. The goggles of grace which enable me to see my spouse as the way God sees him. Human, imperfect and flawed, but at the same time seen and deeply loved.

Goggles of grace which are spiritually blinding to imperfection in contrast fleeting human effort, infatuation and goggly-goggles.

The goggles of grace help me see my spouse not with the worldly magnifying glass which maximizes things the world defines as imperfect. Goggles of grace enable me to see the unseen, to see a transformation happening beneath the surface-inwardly my spouse is being made new day by day and I have the privilege of sitting in the front row to experience this transformative growth and change.

“When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves  your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change.” Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

After I will and I do for eleven years, four thousand and fifteen days and what feels like forty thousand diapers, I desire to be the kind of wife who chooses to put on the goggles of grace. To put off the worldly pattern of loving out of infatuation and loving only off of the high of the feeling of love. To let the worldly and fleeting pattern unravel away. I desire to be renewed in my mind with the ways of God and put on the goggles of grace, made after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I do not choose goggles of grace in every moment, I have so much unraveling to do, but I know God is not finished with me yet.

Googly-goggles may have gotten us to the altar, but it is only grace goggles which will enable us to walk through the rest of our days here on earth alongside one another.

Marriage needs the constant balming of grace and I am thankful to be on the journey alongside my husband as little by little God is redeeming the both of us in marriage and making us both new not because of what we do but because of who He is.

Yes, outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

photo by Bumblebee Photography